Image [cc] nayukim

Oh, to define Knowledge.

Is it:

Data + Information = Knowledge?

Could it be the circular argument of:

Experience leads to Knowledge, which leads to Decisions, which lead to Action, which lead to Experience, which leads to Knowledge… [E+K+D+A…] 

One of my favorite Knowledge Management bloggers, Nick Milton, discusses this in his post yesterday called, “Where Does Knowledge Come From?” Nick goes on to push for the second algorithm in explaining where “Knowledge” is created in the grand scheme of things. The idea of knowledge coming from experience is not a new concept, but it may be an oversimplification of how we obtain knowledge, and how, as Knowledge Managers, we think about how we build upon these pyramids of knowledge/experience or data/info/knowledge.

Trying to create a pyramid, or an algorithm to define “Knowledge” reminds me of the classic Sidney Harris cartoon where the professor is looking over the mathematical equation of one of his students, where step two is defined as, Then A Miracle Occurs, then step three goes on to give the answer. The classic answer, of course, is “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.” Or, in this pyramid scheme’s case, I think we should be a little more explicit in what step one defines as “Experience.”

Just as any good blogger should do… I’m going to completely oversimplify this answer and combine Nick’s pyramids. We gain “experience” through our individual interpretation of the data + information piece of the pyramid. We build upon these experiences, over time, to create our individual knowledge. The idea behind this process is that as we gather new pieces of data + information, we gain additional experiences. Now, whether the knowledge piece of the pyramid comes next and influences our decisions and actions, or whether our experiences, decisions and actions creates our individual knowledge can be debated. I guess that depends upon whether you think the “end result” that you obtain from this process is the ability to act, or is the end result that you are more knowledgeable. (That sounds like an entirely different blog post for a later date.)

As Knowledge Managers, how you look at these pyramids may influence how you approach your job of sharing knowledge across your organization. Do we look at capturing what we define as knowledge, or do we attempt to build a better way of enhancing the experience of our people? How do we define our “base line” of the knowledge/experience formula? Nick suggests that  the E + K + D + A formula is the preferred method. It is the whole “E + K” part that I think are the basis for how Knowledge Managers attempt to expand our workforce’s ability to make better “D + A” processes. However, just as in the cartoon, I think we really need to be more explicit in what makes up those first two steps.

  • I'm not certain that E(xperience) and K(nowledge) are separable. Part of the ongoing process of acquiring more K is that it is dependent on the amount of E, and vice versa!

    We've heard of the examples of people who have twenty years of experience, as compared to those who've had one year of experience twenty times. The difference is that those with "more" experience have synthesized and integrated K into E, while others just don't seem to "get it" when presented with the same K, and in consequence don't grow and gain more E.

    So, the problem is a lot more than just making data findable (that's necessary, but not sufficient). How do we manage data so that it can be found, and then presented in such a way that it maximally resonates with the experience and ability to comprehend of the consumer?

    It's essentially the same task faced by support technicians every call or email. From the bank of information that is technically correct, what should I present that will be most actually useful (part of the opening moments of the conversation is where we try to get an accurate read on the E and K of each other, and it's fraught with peril)? The technicians that are skilled at this become heroes; many of the others reinforce a stereotype.

  • Thanks Greg for the comments and additions

    I actually did combine the two triangles in this post

    but of course they no longer remain triangles!

  • ahh!! The beauty of flowcharts! Not as sleek as the pyramids, but more flexible.

    Thanks for pointing me to that post.

    I also wanted to point out on your post (aka rant) today that we in the Library world tend to think of what we do as "Information Management" 😉